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Michigan State vs. UCLA: Careful What You Ask For

UCLA will need a 100% Malcolm Lee in the Big Dance to have any chance to make some noise.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
UCLA will need a 100% Malcolm Lee in the Big Dance to have any chance to make some noise. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The UCLA Bruins are excited to play the very battle tested Michigan State Spartans in the first round of the NCAA tournament.  As UCLA team captain Malcolm Lee stated (emphasis mine throughout):

On the thought that it is a good thing UCLA is playing a "name" opponent like Michigan State, after the Bruins have taken lesser teams lightly:

Malcolm Lee: "Oh yeah, most definitely. That's probably going to work in our favor, especially given that they're a Final Four team last year. They're a team not to take lightly. I'm sure we all know that."

That is a bit scary that this team may needed to play a "name" opponent to get up for a NCAA tournament game?!??  Especially since only Jerime Anderson and Lee have even been bit players before in a tournament game.  But the whole team jumped on that theme, as Anthony Stover stated:

On playing a name opponent:
AS: "It's a great thing; as you've seen when we'ved played BYU this year or the Arizona game at home, we step up to the big games. To have a big game in the first game of the tournament is great for us. We'll have to step up right away, and it's not going to get any easier."

And Jerime Anderson:

On UCLA playing better against name opponents, and what Michigan State means to that:
JA: "I think it just lights a fire under all of us, knowing that we're playing against a team that is proven. Tom Izzo is a proven coach, one fo the best coaches in hte nation, if not the best. This game, we have to reappy prepare and really focus, and it will be alright."

If the Bruins need any more "help" getting up for a NCAA tournament game, they are underdogs on the Vegas line.

Michigan State gets the nod here by Vegas as 1.5 point favorites despite being the 10 seed matched up against the seven seed in UCLA. I agree with that line because Michigan State in my opinion is much more battle tested than the Bruins have been in the Pac-10. The Spartans non-conference schedule prepared them to face teams like UCLA in the Tournament and I just think MSU is too talented compared to the Bruins in this matchup.

More after the jump.

There are two big questions for UCLA going into this tournament putting aside motivation.  The first is Malcolm Lee's knee and UCLA's health.  Malcolm had something rare for him, as UCLA most consistent player this year, a bad game against Oregon last time where he looked tentative after hurting his knee

"I've been doing rehab every day and it's starting to feel a lot better. I'm just getting used to the pain, playing and walking on it with the different feeling. ... The Oregon game was the first game I went up and down - I was still practicing but doing half-court stuff - and yesterday I had a really good practice going up and down, a lot more confidence."

UCLA has no chance without Lee close to a 100%.  There are other health issues, but with the exception of Zeek Jone's wrist, everyone else will hopefully be close to a 100%

Also, forward Tyler Honeycutt and freshman guard Tyler Lamb have strep throat and Anderson is battling a viral illness.

None is expected to miss the NCAA tournament opener Thursday.

The other big question for UCLA is who is the on the court leader?  While Lee is the quiet leader by example, the team lacks a vocal leader.

Well, something, anything, if the Bruins' 76-59 loss to Oregon is any indication of what silence does for UCLA. Howland acknowledged that he did not see any of his players try to pull their teammates together when things started to unravel against the Ducks.

"I mean, no," he said.

The lack of in-game leadership is nothing new for a team without a senior. Freshman center Joshua Smith said junior guards Jerime Anderson or Lazeric Jones typically deliver a pregame pep talk.

"Other than that, it's just kind of on ourselves," Smith said. "We don't have one guy who just kind of brings everyone together."

One way or another the PGs (Jones and Anderson) will have to step up some. 

In closing, a bit more on Michigan State at the macro level and a programming note.  This is a great week to do fan posts and share information on BN.  Tomorrow will have a interview with the Spartan's SBN blog, The Only Colors and Thursday we will breakdown the match-ups.  There will be much more as well but your help is appreciated.

On coaching:

Izzo is familiar with UCLA coach Ben Howland, who previously coached at Pittsburgh. Howland is 2-1 at UCLA against Izzo, winning at home in 2003 and in the CBE Classic, and losing at Breslin Center in 2004.

Michigan State feels lucky to be playing the Bruins:

The Bruins are big everywhere, a trait that has bothered MSU this season, and they rebound well. UCLA has had problems with turnovers, though, and isn't a great shooting team.

If MSU can get past the Bruins, it likely will face No. 2 seed Florida on Saturday.

"I think we're very fortunate. I'm happy with what we got," said MSU's Delvon Roe, who played AAU ball with Lee and UCLA guard Jerime Anderson. "We got UCLA, then possibly Florida, then possibly BYU. None of those three teams really jump out to you and scares you, I don't think any team scares us.

UCLA is playing the team and the coach that have been very clutch in the tournament in recent years:

No other school has done a better job of outperforming its seed in the NCAA Tournament than Michigan State under Izzo. In both 2005 and 2010, the Spartans reached the Final Four as No. 5 seeds.

The Spartans have had a roller coaster year:

The Spartans finished out of the rankings after a preseason No. 2 ranking. But MSU won five of its last eight games, including a victory over ninth-ranked Purdue in the Big Ten tournament.

And as mentioned yesterday from Bruin Report Online:

The Bruins were seeded seventh and will take on the 10th seeded Spartans, who've made the last two Final Fours.

In fact, between the Bruins and Spartans, the last six Final Fours have had either UCLA or Michigan State, with the Spartans going in 2005, UCLA in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and Michigan State in 2009 and 2010. .  . .

The last time the Bruins and Spartans met was during the 2007-2008 season, when a Darren Collison-less Bruin squad topped the Spartans, 68-63 in the CBE Classic Finals in Kansas City.

But recent tournament history favors the Spartans who have a humongous experience advantage:

And ultimately that's what this game is about, a matchup of two hallowed coaches and two programs who have been in vastly different places the last two years.

Forget Honeycutt or Reeves Nelson or Malcolm Lee. Forget, too, Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green and Durrell Summers. This is not a matchup of talent versus talent, game versus game. No, this is a matchup of grizzled, gnarled old veterans, grown men who have appeared in two-straight Final Fours, versus...32 combined postseason minutes. . . .

For comparison: Michigan State's Lucas, who ranks fifth in Spartan history with 1,985 career points, has played 322 NCAA Tournament minutes alone.

So how will UCLA do Thursday?  According to CBH the same consistent effort as always who bristles at the notion that the team is "Jekyll and Hyde."

"I don't characterize the team as a Jeckyl and Hyde," Howland said. "I think it was pretty consistent. You look over the course of the year as a team grows, matures and gets better. It was disappointing the way we played the other night no question. But that's behind us, and now we're moving forward."

Not sure about that coach, especially when the players are "happy" to get a big name opponent.  But CBH does get the last word, with something all UCLA fans can agree on:

"We expected to get back in the tournament," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "That's the expectation here."

. . .

"The tournament is a whole new season," Howland said. "Everybody comes into the tournament at 0-0 and everybody who is in there is deserving."

Make us proud Bruins.